I don’t have millions (or even thousands) of readers but the ones I do are very persistent (thank you!) and keep asking me when my next novel is coming out.
So here it is – please read on for an excerpt of The Guardian, to be released this fall, in Kindle and paperback. It will be available at Amazon.com just like the other three titles and featured at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6598830.Liv_Lugara
December 20, 5:00 a.m.
Clocks striking and bells ringing near and far never woke up anyone in a city so accustomed to them it had perhaps grown deaf to the sound.
He had already run for thirty minutes and droplets of sweat were gathering on his eyebrows and over his upper lip, despite the cold air.
That same city had grown so accustomed to scandals and gossip involving his boss and organization that one more would eventually pass by and soon be forgotten. Like bells ringing and then going mute. As soon as the scandal of the hour had been shoved under the carpet of the city’s short memory, another one would creep in, just because that was the kind of thing that sold papers, magazine, books, TV shows; that animated blogs, and maintained websites. People craved instant gratification; their schadenfreude festering upon the demise of others. They kept coming back for more. Ad aeternum. Eternally, like the city itself. He loved and hated the city and its people with equal ardor. Wiping sweat off his brow with a gloved hand, he tried to concentrate on higher thoughts, more enlightening reflections.
“Seek always the best in everyone and everywhere,” had his boss once said, with his sing-song accent. A wise man he was and as so he never repeated his advice. He seemed to tap into an endless source of right things to say at the right moment to the right listener.
“If I do so,” the runner had then replied, more than a bit frustrated, “I won’t be able to do my job as well as I should. I have to be on the lookout for bad things.”
“Then bad is all you will ever find.”
Probably right again. And yet, on that cold December morning, the city all dark around him, alone with the sound of bells in the square, his restless mind went over the day’s things-to-worry-about list.
There were the foreign visitors arriving around nine. Two different individuals from the same city and country. One represented the profession he loathed the most in the world. No good could ever come from them; the boss was wrong. Nothing but trouble and deceit to find among those. Wherever they were, whenever he was forced to interact with them – and that happened quite a lot – he felt surrounded by wolves.
The second was a scientist. A brilliant man. Of those the runner knew nothing. He did not comprehend genial minds; could only be thankful for their existence. That one in particular had been highly recommended and on the capacity of his neurons to fire up smart connections and generate ideas rested the runner’s hopes for a solution.
The runner needed a permanent and reliable way to protect their systems. God willing, not a very expensive one. As months and a lot of money had already been wasted in two previous attempts, this time he had claimed for himself the right to choose a new supplier. A risky decision, but he could no longer deal with incompetence. If wrong in his choice, it would put a dent in his reputation. A life-time of unblemished conduct evaporated in seconds with the slightest failure. Let alone a failure involving their security systems. He would have to retire, to resign. To leave town. Right, as if he could.
At five fifty-five the skies remained as dark as night. His breathing was hardening now, almost an hour into the jogging routine. Not a soul out in the square. All dark as the boss had requested to save resources and help tame the astronomical power bill. Even during the holiday week, the light-adorned decoration was turned off between one and seven in the morning.
He needed no light to see each building, each tower, and each stone in the pavement under the rhythm of his trainers. After all those years living there day and night, he knew precisely where each landmark was placed. He could have found his way around the square with eyes shut.
His gloved hand searched and found the trinket in the pocket. He never left home without it. The small St. Michael medal, made of silver, had been in his family for generations. Touching it was like an instant shot of courage and optimism. Made him feel as safe – almost safer – than the pistol under the fleece jacket.
As if two VIP guests weren’t enough in a week that had always been chaotic for him and his team, crowded with all kinds of festivities and celebrations, the boss had also requested a last-minute meeting with a dozen of his closest colleagues. That alone posed a security threat of the highest level, considering they were arriving from all over the world at different times. Number three on his list of things to worry about. A day of forty-eight hours wouldn’t be enough to manage those mere three items. A team of twice the number of men he currently had would perhaps suffice to deal with the three initial lines on today’s list.
The smart phone in his pocket, next to St. Michael and not far from the pistol, vibrated and he tripped. A paving stone, its edge slightly protruding from the ground, had been the culprit. One moment’s distraction and you’re dead. The runner’s gloved hands cushioned the fall and he didn’t get hurt; startled not injured. Breathing fast he stood up, dusted himself off, and reached into the pocket. Two new text messages showed on the lit-up screen. He opened the first. Departing to Cortina today, returning January 16. Don’t make me ask again – I expect to see the deposit in my account this morning. His heart missed a beat. He had forgotten.
Half expecting the second message to be an angrier follow-up from the same sender, he opened the next one when clocks and bells announced the sixth hour of the morning. We are close, priest-lover. Soon the world will know the fake you are. Boom! You and he are gone…
The runner’s forehead under the woolen cap had become damp. Text message number four in less than a week. A local police car was now approaching the square perimeter, starting to get ready for the busy day; its top flashing in continuous circles like the beacon on a lighthouse.
He looked down to the stepping stone that had made him trip. At six o’clock the darkness had begun to subside. Behind the prescription glasses he had worn since childhood, everything was gaining a sharper definition as subtle rays of luminosity started to infuse the square. He knew exactly what stone that was. It contained an inscription that marked the horrible day when the predecessor of his boss had been shot twice on that precise spot. Wounded beyond help, he collapsed into the arms of the man in charge back then. Had he ever gotten to the top himself, the runner swore upon his own life never to let the same happen on his watch. Now that he was at the top, maybe he would be forced to swallow those very words; men better than he had failed before. Arrogance kills went the voice in his head. The sweat running down his spine was like a cold finger and the runner shivered.
He looked up, longing for light and hope from the winter skies. There was a bird sitting atop the most famous chimney in the world. Large enough to be a seagull, as the white maritime birds followed the ancient river into the city, joining the flocks of pigeons. However, in his present state of mind, the bird figure delineated itself as a menacing vulture, watching his every move. Or as a large horrendous bat. Or one of those gargoyles in medieval cathedrals. A real one, hunched over and with a demonic smile on its ugly face.
“What do you fear the most?” had the boss once asked him, in their first meeting, when the runner’s heart still bled for the departed one, a remarkable man and a true friend.
“Not being there when it happens,” he answered.